From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Students celebrate Christian diversity, find common ground

Date Tue, 14 Jan 2003 15:43:57 -0500

January 14, 2003


Episcopalians: Students celebrate Christian diversity, find 
common ground

by Evan Silverstein

(Presbyterian News Service) About 1,100 participants turned out 
for Celebrate IV: Weave Us Together, an ecumenical conference 
for college students in which about 1,100 participants were 
"woven together" into a spiritual community that included 
Catholics and Protestants, Pentecostals and Seventh Day 
Adventists. They all came together from around the globe to 
celebrate their common faith in Christ, and their diversity.

The five-day festival at the Albuquerque Convention Center, 
which ended on New Year's Day, was co-sponsored by the Council 
for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry (CESCM), and the 
National Catholic Student Coalition. CESCM is a partnership of 
students and higher-education staff from several denominations.

The fourth such gathering, Celebrate served as a forum, a "safe" 
place for the students to broaden their theological horizons by 
stepping out of their individual denominations and getting a 
glimpse of all of Christendom.

"I think everyone hears the gospel and hears a kernel of 
goodness out of that," said Jolinda Matthews, the CESCM staff 
member who served as administrative coordinator for the event. 
"And only when we gather together and hear these little kernels 
does it all come together."

Dialogue and interaction

Celebrate was designed to let the mostly 18- to 25-year-olds 
gain ecumenical knowledge and find out about other Christian 
denominations through open dialogue and personal interaction. 
They discussed their churches' differences and similarities and 
shattered some misconceptions. They also exercised their 
student-leadership skills and talked about how to work for 
social justice.

Members of about 20 Christian denominations attended the event, 
which is held every four years. Celebrate officials said the 
Lutherans had the largest group, with 327, followed by Catholics 
(248), Methodists (156) and Episcopalians (151). Many other 
participants described themselves as "ecumenical" or 
"non-denominational." A handful of students represented the 
National Baptist, Dutch Reformed and Armenian Orthodox churches, 
as well as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the 
United Church of Christ (UCC). About 60 international students 
came from countries as distant as India, Uganda, Denmark and 

College students on winter break converged on the Albuquerque 
site from across the country, from the University of California 
to Ohio State University and Cornell University in New York. 
There were spirited worship services with thunderous music from 
around the globe, Bible studies and keynote speakers, workshops, 
creative caucuses, denominational gatherings and 
cross-denominational small-group sessions.

"This is the first time I've spent time with (people of) 
different denominations, especially Catholics," said Ethan 
Boehm, a 19-year-old freshman at North Carolina State University 
in Raleigh, NC. "And we've had open dialogue in our small groups 
about the differences. It's really cool to see what other people 

Candid about differences

In keeping with the event's theme, a colorful tapestry of 
overlapping crosses, symbolic of Christians woven as one in 
Christ, hung above the auditorium stage.

If Christians are to be truly unified, they must be more candid 
about their differences, said Bishop Wendell Gibbs of the 
Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, who spoke during opening worship. 
"If Jesus and the Father were not honest with one another, they 
couldn't have been one," Gibbs said. "If you and I aren't honest 
with each other, we can't be one. Because I am a follower of 
Jesus Christ, I love each and every one of you. There may be 
some things I may not like, but I love you."

A mariachi band played traditional Mexican music during a New 
Year's Eve banquet, and Native American dancers performed during 
the event, which also was attended by ministerial students, 
graduate students, professors, campus ministers and chaplains. 
The first-night worship service reflected the culture of the 
conference venue, featuring Native American chants and drumming 
and a prayer from Bernard Duran, a member of the Picuris Pueblo 
tribe of New Mexico. "Let's all pray for the new year 2003 
coming up," said Duran, who was accompanied by the drum group 
Southern Mix, which has members from several Native American 
tribes. "I hope ... we do not have to go to war."

Petition against war

Avoiding war was on the minds of one group of students that 
collected signatures on a petition opposing a U.S.-led attack on 
Iraq. About 200 participants also attended a brief outdoor 
candlelight vigil featuring prayers for peace and songs of hope.

Terrorism and globalization were topics of a "Global Voices" 
session sponsored by the World Student Christian Federation 
(WSCF). "The Arab-Israeli conflict remains a bleeding spot in 
the conscience of Christians all over the world," said Elias 
El-Halabi, regional secretary for the Middle East for the WSCF, 
an ecumenical student organization. "Our God is a just God. 
Palestinians are not children of a lesser God."

Keynote speaker Millard Fuller, a founder and president of 
Habitat for Humanity International, a worldwide Christian 
housing ministry, urged the students to extend their "spiritual 
antennas" to discern God's call.

"How do you know in a world of so many needs . . . what it is 
God wants you to do?" asked Fuller, who told the students that 
Habitat has so far built 140,000 homes for low-income families 
in 87 countries.

"God is broadcasting, young folks," said Fuller, who was raised 
in the Congregational Christian Church, now part of the UCC, but 
is now a Baptist. "If you will extend your spiritual antennas, 
God will reveal to you your unique ministry, and what it is that 
God wants you to do."

Fuller fired up the crowd by singling out denominations. "Got 
any Catholics, here?" he shouted. "I wonder if any Lutherans are 
here? ... How about United Methodists?" Each delegation obliged 
with a roar, and he went on: "What other groups do we have 
here?" "Presbyterians!" several people shouted. "Presbyterians! 
I knew there were a lot of Presbyterians ... and I'm so 
overdressed," said Fuller, who was wearing a coat and tie. "I 
dressed up for the Presbyterians today. I have this Presbyterian 

"We live in a pluralistic society," said Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom 
of the Dominican Religious Order of Preachers in Chicago. 
"There's tremendous diversity, and if we're going to break down 
the barriers that often divide us ... we have to come to know 
each other."


Photos available at

--Evan Silverstein is a senior reporter for Presbyterian News 

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